First of all, the book for the next Slaves of Golconda discussion has been chosen, and it’s going to be Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper. The discussion will begin on January 31st, and everyone is welcome to join. All you have to do is read the book and then post about it on your blog, if you have one, and then participate in the discussion. All newcomers are welcome!
It seems about right that after I posted the list of books I’d like to read, I ended up choosing something not on the list at all. For me, lists of books I’d like to read are very much works of the moment. They reflect how I’m feeling on a particular day or in a particular hour, and the world usually looks entirely different only a little while later.
I’ve been feeling like reading something from the 19C, and was considering Wilkie Collins’s Armadale, but then when the moment came to pull a book off the shelf I noticed Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley. I’ve had that book sitting around for almost a year. I’m not entirely sure what drew me to it, except that it’s been awhile since I read Charlotte Brontë, but only a few months since I read Collins, and I wanted to read something that felt new and different. So there you go.
I also began reading President Obama’s first book Dreams from My Father, which one of my in-person book groups will be discussing in a couple weeks. I’ve read 60 pages or so in this book, and so far I’m liking it very much. Obama has such an interesting story to tell, and his focus on what it was like to grow up with his complicated racial heritage is fascinating. He comes across as a very smart, very thoughtful person, and so far I very much like the personality that comes through the writing. It’s also fun to read it knowing that he would grow up to be president; I can’t help but wonder what his parents and his grandparents would have thought if they had known what would happen, and what he would have made of it himself, both as a young boy, and as the 33-year-old who wrote the book. I want to tell all the people in the book not to worry, that things are going to turn out just fine, and that “Barry” is going to have a wonderful career. (Although as far as I’m concerned, being President of the United States is surely one of the worst things that could happen to a person.)
And now to Brideshead. Yesterday I met with two friends (including Musings) to discuss the novel, and it turned out to be a very interesting talk. I didn’t lose my feeling that the book is kind of all over the place and lacking in focus, but I did get a better sense of the book as a reflection of Waugh’s ambivalence about Catholicism. None of us thought that the book was proselytizing for Catholicism in any way, and if anything we thought it was more about the ways it can really screw you up. Yes, there is a moment at the end where the main character has a spiritual experience, but it’s unclear where this will lead. Catholicism seems more like a curse than a blessing — a tradition that will shape everything about you and that is impossible to escape, no matter how much you want to.
As important as Catholicism is in the book, though, we all also agreed that many of the problems of the Flyte family come from their own screwed-upness, and religion just happens to be a great weapon to fight family battles with. The novel is at least as much a tale of how impossible it is to escape your family as it is about how impossible it is to escape your religion.
Oh, my, I’m depressing myself. But I like depressing books, so I’ll be sure to read more Waugh. Mostly, we agreed that Brideshead is a book about loss and trying to come to terms with it. The circular structure of the book makes the point that although we can’t leave our past behind, we can sometimes come to see it in a new way. There’s a little consolation at least.